July 15, 2008
There are a number of ideas of how to prevent injuries – running on trails, weight training, doing long runs slowly, or even incorporating walking breaks (Jeff Galloway‘s perspective). Another perspective is good bio mechanics. There’s a growing trend of running techniques out there: Chi Running, Pose Running, and Evolution Running, all of which have one thing in common: landing on your forefoot/midfoot (aka “ball of the foot”), rather then the heel.
I touched upon running this way when I discussed barefoot running and the Vibram FiveFingers. In either case, the tendency is to land on the ball of the foot, and this enables the “lower-leg spring” to be activated greater. This is the combination of the plantar fascii, achilles tendon, and the calf muscle, which function together to absorb energy upon impact and release it as you take the next step. While this initially causes some soreness while adapting to the new stress in that region, it’s quite clear that it’s better suited for handling the shock forces than the knees and hips, which take more abuse in a heel landing. I think the animation from Newton Running illustrates it best.
After developing my “lower-leg spring” w/ my Vibram FiveFingers, I started to incorporate a forefoot/midfoot strike with my current pair of running shoes. It has not been a seamless transition. I tend to run faster at the beginning of my runs, and slower at then end then I would w/ my normal heel strike. I think this is because the technique does allow me to run faster, but I don’t yet have the necessary muscular endurance in the muscle groups that are greater used. I end up deriving more power from the glutes, for instance. This is potentially a good thing, as the glutes are the biggest muscles in the human body, so I would think it would have more potential for power then pushing w/ the quads.
A strange aspect about the transition is that I’m finding it difficult to accelerate while running on the balls of my feet. When I ran track events in high school on track spikes, I’d run on the balls of my feet, so I’m used to running fast that way. I’m also used to shifting to the balls of my feet when sprinting to the finish of races and training runs. Running fast seemed to come natural in this manner, but accelerating while having run the rest of my run on the balls of my feet seems to be more difficult for some reason. Perhaps, again, this is because I’ve yet to sufficiently develop the necessary localized muscular endurance. Time will tell if I’m able reap the benefits.